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Mayor Heartwell's State of the City Speech

8:19 AM, Jan 11, 2014   |    comments
Mayor George Heartwell: "Shower with a friend" to alleviate flooding at Grand Rapids wastewater plant. (April 19, 2013)
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GRAND RAPIDS, (WZZM) - This is the transcript to Mayor George Heartwell's 11th State of the City Address Saturday morning:

Good morning and welcome to my eleventh annual State of the City Address.  It is always encouraging to me to see the large turnout we have for this event.  I consider this the single most important speech I give each year...and believe me I give a lot of speeches!  I'm always pleased when my colleagues on the City Commission take time out of their busy schedules to attend this speech. I am also delighted to have elected representatives from the area join us.  Please hold your applause until I have introduced them all....

I want to give special recognition and thanks to our talented and visionary Superintendent of Schools Teresa Whetherall Neal. Teresa has been bold, innovative and persistent in carrying out her charge as Superintendent. Our GRPS are headed in a good direction. All the markers we look for in student achievement are up. Problems are being addressed head-on. I can tell you I wouldn't wish for a better partner than Teresa as together the City and the Schools pursue mutual excellence. Join me in thanking Teresa for her service to our children.

Our Mayor's Youth Council greeted you as you came in today. These young women and men are involved in a yearlong civics program, where they meet with me and City Commissioners, with City staff and State legislators. They also tackle one major issue each year. I'm very proud of this group who have chosen voting as their issue. They will work to educate and inform their peers, registering those who are 18 or older and stressing the importance of voting to all. Please welcome the Mayor's Youth Council members as they stand.

I also want to welcome the Safety Ambassadors who are with us this morning. If you've been downtown and caught in a sudden rainstorm you may have had a Safety Ambassador suddenly at your side with an umbrella; or if you partied a little too much at one of our downtown venues, a Safety Ambassador my have called you a cab; or you may have seen a Safety Ambassador helping a homeless person downtown to find the services he or she needs, or giving directions to a visitor. This new program is getting rave reviews from downtown retailers and restaurant owners, from business people and visitors alike. Funded by Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. this program is making our downtown an even more welcoming venue for all. Please join me in recognizing our Safety Ambassadors as they stand.

Another very important group I want to recognize this morning is our Clean and Safe Team. These men can be seen every morning cleaning our downtown, picking up trash, watering the flowers, and - this time of year - clearing snow off the sidewalk approach ramps to our city streets. The most frequent compliment I get from visitors to our city is "Mayor, your downtown is so clean." Yes it is; and that is thanks to the dedication of our Improvement Team. They are out working this morning and can't be with us but please help me thank them.

Before I get to the text of the speech, I want to pause for a moment to recognize and thank City staff. Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know if you have any idea how fortunate we are to have the quality of municipal employees that we have. They lead departments, they patrol streets, they put out fires, they fix burst water mains in sub-freezing temperatures, they handle legal matters, they supervise voting, they treat your waste water and ensure your drinking water is pure, they collect your trash, and, yes, they accept your parking ticket payments, they design your roadways, they plan your neighborhoods, they inspect your houses. Not only do they do all that, but they do it with a high level of dedication to this community. Led by our fantastic City Manager Greg Sundstrom this team is awesome. Would all the City employees in the audience please stand and be recognized.


I have an admission to make. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to be sure I'm not dreaming. I am the Mayor of one of the most amazing cities in America. A leading city in everything from climate preparedness to brewing craft beer; from raising a family to finding a job; from tourist destination to retirement capital. Time again we show up on the "nation's top" lists...and often we're on top of the top lists. But here's what's astounding: we have done all this while mired in a single-state, decade-long recession. 

While gloom and doom was in the air, our entrepreneurs continued to invest.

While pundits proclaimed the death of northern-tier industrial cities, our philanthropists continued to give.

While Michigan cities were falling under emergency financial management our city administration was getting smarter, stronger and more efficient; transforming our government operations and managing our government assets and becoming a model for the modern American city: nimble, lean, entrepreneurial and sustainable over the long haul.

While climate change deniers were babbling on the airwaves, we were quietly going about our work of becoming a more resilient community with better transit, more energy efficient government buildings, improved bicycle facilities, and green infrastructure to address storm water runoff.

And when the Flood of 2013 tested our mettle we showed that human spirit, strong community and smart investments were more than adequate to meet the test.

Grand Rapids you can be proud of yourself! I am certainly proud to be your Mayor.


Our city is an international city, a place the peoples of the world have come to call home. I suppose since the days of the French fur traders it has always been this way; through waves of immigrants from Poland, Italy, Netherlands, Ukraine, Ireland and Greece, and the great migration of African Americans from the south. Today immigrants arrive from South and Central America, Bosnia, Sudan and Ethiopia, from India and Pakistan, China and Japan, Iraq and Syria. All come here looking for a new start: to work, to teach, to practice medicine or do scientific research. They start new businesses, buy homes, and put down deep roots. In the process of doing so - by their very presence here - they make us a better place, a richer place, a more interesting place.

I want you to meet two representatives of this international community, Raquel Salas and Sai Naik, who have made their mark on Grand Rapids.

Raquel came to the US from Dominican Republic in 2002. She brought her entrepreneurial spirit with her. She earned her law degree Magna Cum Laude at Michigan State University College of Law in 2006 and is now founding partner of her law firm, Avanti Law Group.

Sai Naik's parents immigrated to Grand Rapids from India. Sai is the Founder and CEO of a multi-million dollar software company, Mavin Global. His company has offices in India, Africa, South America and, of course, Grand Rapids!

Something these two have in common, besides being immigrants, is that they consider Bing Goei, this year's Champion of Diversity, to be their mentor.

Please welcome Raquel and Sai.

Bing Goei is himself an immigrant, coming with his family from Indonesia in 1960. An entrepreneur, Bing has run businesses ranging from road construction to flower arranging. He also has a passion for race and ethnic inclusion. For seven years Bing served as the Executive Director for the Ministry of Racial Reconciliation for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. As the owner of Eastern Floral Company he took advantage of an opportunity to purchase a vacant manufacturing building on the West Side, a building that had far more space than was needed for the floral business. He created the Goei Center a facility dedicated to the promotion of entrepreneurship among minorities and foreign immigrants to Grand Rapids. Our community is a richer place because of Bing and his vision for a diverse business community. 

Each year it is my privilege to present the Champion of Diversity Award. This year the Award goes to Bing Goei.

Bing, for all you do for Grand Rapids, for your commitment to diversity and inclusion, for your passion for minority and international business, I thank you.

We know that some immigrants come to Grand Rapids not to start businesses, not to join family, but to escape war and desperate economic conditions that threaten life itself. Today we remember two communities of recent immigrants to Grand Rapids whose countries are at war. I have invited citizens of Syria and citizens of the new nation of South Sudan to join us this morning. Both countries are enveloped in civil war. These citizens of our city have friends and family members in these tense and war torn countries. We offer our prayers for peace and our words of encouragement. I'd like to ask our Syrian and Sudanese citizens who here this morning to stand and allow our applause to serve as a sign of our solidarity and support in your time of grief and concern for your homeland.

Immigration is crucial to our economy and immigration is a bedrock principle of our American life. We have always been a people who throw our arms wide in welcome.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of you teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

That's what Emma Lazarus wrote, that's the quote on the Statue of Liberty that welcomed so many immigrants to our country. It is our creed, it is our pledge, it is the spirit of our country. It has made us great.

Why, then, has our nation seemingly turned its back on immigrants? Why have we made it so difficult to immigrate to America that many simply break the law to come here, or, having come, must break the law to stay? Why can't we pass a reasonable and fair immigration law that provides a clear path to citizenship for those who want to be Americans? Congress, it is time to act. Don't let this stain on our national spirit continue for another year. Pass immigration reform.


Talent comes in all shapes and forms and colors and ethnicities. It is home grown and it finds its way here from someplace else. It is the young entrepreneur and the seasoned research scientist; the designer, the architect, the programmer, the doctor, the professor. In a knowledge economy such as ours talent is wealth. The cities that retain and attract talent are winning; the others are losing.

How do we become a city that wins?

Let me start by saying that we have a pretty good jump on it. Grand Rapids has an unemployment rate that is lower than Michigan's rate, lower than that of the country. We rank at or near the top of recent studies on best places to find a job. Our service economy leads the nation and manufacturing is coming back strong.

The W.E. Upjohn Institute compares us to 11 other benchmark cities our size or larger in the Midwest. We lead this pack in job creation; first in service jobs and are third in manufacturing jobs. We are a strong second in entrepreneurship and computer and math jobs and we lead in business and finance, engineering, and architecture.

Sounds good, doesn't?

Here's the other shoe dropping: we rank 9th in talent. Whoops, how did that happen? All but three of our benchmark cities lead us in percent of population with bachelors degrees or better. Talent today is measured in post-secondary degree attainment. We must do better.

Where do we start? We start when our children are very young. Most brain development occurs in the first three years of life. Those must be rich, healthy, stimulating years if we are to produce children ready for school. That's why I'm so pleased at the commitment Governor Snyder and our Michigan Legislature have made to early childhood development. New investment this year created 16,000 new preschool opportunities for Michigan children. In no small measure that is due to the efforts of Grand Rapids' own, Susan Broman, who is Director of the Office of Great Start in the Michigan Department of Education. Susan landed a $52 million federal grant for early childhood programs in our state. Susan is with us this morning. Please help me thank her for her work.

Literacy is the key to learning, the key to academic achievement, the key to talent development. Throughout my tenure as your mayor we have focused on literacy. Reading by grade three is one of the most important indicators of future success in school, in the work world, and in life. Up to grade three a child learns to read. From grade three on a child reads to learn. The Literacy Center of West Michigan hosts the Community Literacy Initiative that then-President of GRCC Juan Olivarez and I launched in 2004. The Initiative leads a local effort of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. This program is helping ensure that our children will succeed in anything they choose to do...because they are readers!

Another program recognized at a previous State of the City Address is showing great results among our elementary and middle school students. "Challenge Scholars" is helping children in the Harrison Park, Westwood Middle feeder system into Union High School to be ready for college. It will also provide last dollar scholarships to all Challenge Scholars when they graduate from Union High. Thanks to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation that leads the way in funding this initiative. Diana Sieger, Executive Director of the Foundation is with us this morning. Please let her know how much we appreciate this work.

Yet another program previously lauded here at the State of the City has had enormous impact on our community's children. Believe to Become (B2B) is a collaborative partnership of citizens and organizations who believe in our Grand Rapids students. B2B offers after school programs, summer enrichment opportunities, support and training for parents and positive recognition of students' successes. Perhaps the most important element of this program is that it is truly grass-roots with neighbors providing the ideas, leadership, and the encouragement to each other. It has reached into 5,000 households and improved academic achievement for over 1800 students. Believe 2 Become is a collaborative effort of Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation. Representatives of the Foundations are here this morning. Please stand and receive our thanks.

Our commitment to our youth continues when they reach secondary school. You've got to love what the Grand Rapids Public Schools are doing with Innovation Central High School. Four centers of innovation in health sciences, modern engineering, business, and design construction are operating out of Central High School giving our students experiences unparalleled in our region. And in case you haven't heard the whispers: GRPS, the Van Andel Public Museum Center, Kendall College of Art and Design, the City of Grand Rapids and the DDA are designing the framework of a new 6-12th grade Museum School with cutting edge curriculum rooted in design thinking and place-based education. Classrooms will literally be the Public Museum and the Archives and Collections Building at 54 Jefferson.

Four years ago at this breakfast I launched the Mayor's 50 Initiative with our LEAD program to help prepare our students for college and career success. With our partners we offer twelve weeks of pre-employment training to youth ages 15-21 in leadership, workplace readiness skills, and civic affairs. Students take the Work Keys test before completing their training. Then the students apply for real-world employment at a Mayor's 50 local business where they are employed for up to six months at a wage of no less than $10.00 hour. The City pays 50% of that wage with the businesses paying the other 50%. The work site provides a Mentor for the student. Since 2010, 175 youth have been enrolled in the training program with an overall 82% job attainment rate. This far exceeds the national average. Our program, in fact, received national recognition this past year when I was invited to join two other mayors and President Obama on a nationwide conference call from the White House focused on youth employment.

I'm also pleased to say that five of our companies - Cascade Engineering, Dematic Corp., Davenport University, Butterball Farms and G.R. Label Company - have agreed to cover 100% of the wage cost...allowing us to enroll even more students in the program. Thank you to these companies and to all the Mayor's 50 businesses for their commitment to our youth. And a special thank you to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation who is also investing in this program for the next two years so that an additional 150 youth can be served. Would representative of Kellogg Foundation and the Mayor's 50 companies who are here today please stand and receive our collective thanks.

Improving talent can't stop with a high school degree, it can't even stop with admission to college. Our young people must complete that degree. They must succeed in the college, university or certificate program of their choice. I have convened a high level community task force to address college completion and to ensure that local jobs are there when students obtain their degrees. With the assistance of the National League of Cities, we have launched a "To College, Through College" Initiative targeting college access and completion rates. Our community goal is 60% of the population with post-secondary degrees by 2025. With access to best practices from cities across the nation, we are developing growth strategies connecting people, industries and education in more meaningful ways.

Today I'm pleased to announce a new program - a partnership between Grand Valley State University and the City of Grand Rapids. We want to ensure that when our college students complete their degrees they want to stay in Grand Rapids. So beginning in the fall semester Grand Valley will offer an accredited course in which ten GVSU students will research our City's current efforts to engage college students and will study similar efforts in cities across the country. The end product of that research will be a strategic plan for the City of Grand Rapids to help us better connect with and enhance services to college students. The City's goal is to keep graduates here, to benefit from the presence of an educated, creative group of citizens who are deeply committed to this place as their home. Through this partnership I am convinced we can do better. President Haas is very excited about this program and sends his regrets that he can't be with us this morning. I know that Patricia Waring from the President's office is with us today along with Provost Gayle Davis, Vice President Jeanne Arnold, Dean George Grant and Associate Director Beverly Grant. Please stand and be recognized and carry our enthusiasm back to President Haas.

We can also build on the talent we have right here in Grand Rapids...those men and women with some college under their belts who, for whatever reasons, had to discontinue that degree work before completion. You can go back to school. You can complete that degree. By doing so you improve your chances for economic security and you add significantly to the vitality of your community's economy. Our community college, private colleges, and state universities have agreements in place to transfer credits easily to ensure Associate and Baccalaureate degrees. Other initiatives like GRCC's Alpha Beta Omega program for African American males, and their Fast Track and TRIO programs exemplify the ways to help students complete college.

Needless to say, it takes all of us to accomplish our goal of 60% having degrees by 2025! Please join me in doing what you can raise the level of educational attainment in our city!


Our municipal transformation is accelerating. When we asked the voters for an increase in the income tax rate in 2010 we promised three things: investment in community policing services, investment in fire response, and transformation of City services by fitting ten pounds of potatoes into a five pound sack - no, let me say that differently: taking ten pounds of potatoes and paring them down to fit appropriately in the five pound sack we have...and feeding the same number of people. We swiftly made good on the first two promises: police and fire. We have been aggressively working to achieve the third. Let me remind you what we have done:

The size of the municipal workforce is 70% of what it was ten years ago; and we reduced the number of City Departments from 24 to 17; 

Every City employee has taken concessions in his/her overall compensation package, a 12.5% overall compensation reduction; 

Additionally we have reduced operational costs by another 10%;

We transitioned 40% of the workforce from defined benefit to defined contribution pension; and for those who didn't transition we reduced their multiplier by one-third;

We implemented Lean practices in our service delivery to provide higher quality municipal services at a reduced cost to taxpayers;

We put in place a customer-call service center that is efficiently responding to citizen questions and concerns. No longer do I hear complaints about "getting the run-around when I call City Hall";

We created a transformation fund that is able to make strategic, one-time investments that will deliver a return on investment for years to come through cost savings and efficiencies;

We turned a $33 million General Fund operating deficit in FY2010 into an operating surplus in FY2013 and we have created transformation savings that we are reinvesting in sustainable asset management.

After nearly four years of working this plan it is clear that by 2015 we will have achieved financial sustainability in core City operations. Now, even as we have worked to accomplish operational sustainability we have known that, looming over our heads, are five capital demands any one of which could sink us...and none of which could be accomplished without additional resources. And so, one year ago, as we saw the light shining at the end of the operational tunnel we began planning for addressing these five stubborn capital problems. We call this effort Sustainable Asset Management for the simple reason that a transformed, sustainable city must be able to maintain the critical infrastructure that supports civic life. Let me tell you where we stand today.

The first stubborn problem was parks. Great cities need great parks...and ours have been underfunded for the last decade. Equipment is in poor repair; we couldn't figure out how to keep our three regional pools open and we couldn't afford to replace our wading pools with splash pads; some areas of our city are deficient in park space while other parks are just insufficiently maintained. Our residents saved our parks. Friends of Grand Rapids Parks focused the energy of our engaged citizens in triaging, researching, planning and investing. You solved this stubborn problem for us when in November you passed - overwhelmingly - a parks millage with a seven-year sunset. Planning is already underway for repairs and improvements that you will begin seeing this spring and summer. Put a check behind stubborn problem number one.

Stubborn problem number two was the annual subsidy required by the operations of cemeteries and Indian Trails Golf Course. We contracted for an experienced golf club manager and revised the business plan for the golf course and it will show its first surplus revenue year in FY2014. We are preparing to make a Transformation Fund investment in the Cemetery Trust Fund that will eliminate the annual General Fund subsidy. Check!

Stubborn problem number three is street lighting. This necessity requires about $2.5 million of General Fund support each year. The idea of creating a street light utility and charging property owners for the service, a practice of many Michigan cities, was considered and rejected by the City Commission. Enter the Transformation Fund. With an investment in conversion of lamps to new LED technology we could save up to $400,000 each year in energy and maintenance costs, significantly reducing the General Fund subsidy, creating critical transformation savings and avoiding additional fees or charges for this service. Check!

Stubborn problem number four is capital investment in storm water and municipal buildings. Both must be addressed. Storm water because we value the water quality of our Grand River and its tributaries and because US-EPA is demanding improved storm water management; municipal buildings because we have been holding some together with baling wire and bubble gum for too long.

Voters rejected the creation of a storm water utility 18 years ago and the City Commission is not eager to try that approach again. A different approach is needed. 

And here it is: Remember the savings we generated in Phase I of our transformation? Here is where we invest them. The savings created by reducing the subsidy to street lighting and eliminating the Cemeteries Trust Fund subsidy, along with other savings achieved from increased operational efficiencies, plus the commitment of 50% of the State of Michigan Economic Vitality Investment Program (EVIP) funds will permit this investment in our storm water and buildings infrastructure. Put another check behind stubborn problem number four.

And the cool thing is that even with all of these problems addressed we will still be able to invest the other 50% of EVIP funds in new transformation initiatives...while running the City operations in a sustainable fashion and slowly growing the reserves necessary to maintain our strong bond rating.

Ah, but I said there were five stubborn problems, didn't I? The fifth is the Mother of Stubborn Problems: Street and Sidewalks. Our streets are in abysmal condition. Poor streets affect commerce, automobile operating costs, public transportation costs, and quality of life in our neighborhoods and downtown business districts. We need to invest $22M each and every year to bring our streets up to an acceptable condition. Today we invest $3.4 million and we're able to match that with another $3.0 million of transportation grants - all told, less than 1/3 of what we should invest.

State gas tax revenues - our major source for street repair - have fallen precipitously over the past decade and are now just enough to match grants. Governor Snyder wants to fix that. The Michigan Department of Transportation wants to fix that. The Grand Rapids and Michigan Chambers of Commerce want to fix that. People who drive on our streets want to fix that. I want to fix that. If we want to fix that, it will take all of us in this room to make it happen.

Here's why: the last remaining obstacle to fixing this problem is finding a state legislative solution that will be accepted by both parties. The funny thing is that when we have a problem at the local level we simply fix it; but in Lansing a problem represents an opportunity to debate. Ideology trumps practicality...and, ultimately, nothing gets done. One year has passed since Governor Snyder proposed a reasonable solution to this problem. Its time - past time - for the legislature to act. I need you to tell them what you would tell me: "Fix the problem; or turn the job over to someone who will."

In the meantime, we have to take matters into our own hands. The City Commission began the process this week to put a proposal on the ballot in May of this year to extend the two-tenths of one percent income tax that we have used to transform government and use it to transform our streets, neighborhoods and business districts. It won't give us everything we need. But it will provide relief and create real progress until the legislature decides that it is important to our state to have good highways, roads and streets.

And, let me emphasize, the extension of the income tax to cover street repair will also contain a provision that will correct a one hundred year anomaly. If the initiative passes the City will take over repair and reconstruction of your sidewalks, a responsibility given to property owners in the 1914 City Charter. Oh, you'll still have to shovel the snow. Sorry about that. But when the tree roots push up the sidewalk squares, or the edges begin to crumble...we'll fix them. No more point of sale inspections. No more random inspection. No more invoice from the City. The condition of your sidewalks will be a City responsibility.

So, we get better streets, better sidewalks, better neighborhoods and better business districts - and avoid the individual cost of sidewalk repair and reconstruction - all for the same rate we are currently paying. That is transformative value!

I urge you to support the ballot initiative when it comes before you in May. Only then can we put a check behind the final stubborn problem and experience complete capital sustainability alongside our operational sustainability.


Before I bring this State of the City Address to a conclusion I would like to tell you about some of the environmental initiative we are working on.

At last year's State of the City I reported to you that the US-EPA funded a feasibility study of solar power installation at the former Butterworth Landfill. The feasibility study preliminary engineering and financing analysis have been completed and preliminary numbers are positive. We are ready to consider taking this project to the next step of Request for Qualifications and Proposals, a step that will require action by the City Commission. The potential exists, through development of only 38 acres of the site, or 20% of the site - that portion which is optimal for this kind of use - to produce electric power to supply a minimum of 1,070 average-sized homes with electricity from the sun. The remainder of the site can be used for athletic fields or passive recreational use. I expect to come back to you next January with a schedule for possible development of a project in the spring of 2015.

At the same time we are working on another renewable energy project with the use of bio solids from the Waste Water Treatment Plant. We have explored the options for capturing the energy in our sewage waste to produce electric power, generate heat, and make use of the end product after power is produced. Following a nice breakfast isn't the best time to go into detail about the process. Suffice it to say that we are now confident that we can generate enough electricity to substantially power our wastewater treatment process, the equivalent of powering at least 500 homes, and that we can heat the wastewater facility with the heat generated in the electric production process. We have been working closely with our partner the City of Wyoming through the Grand Valley Regional Bio solids Authority that we jointly own and manage. We are confident that this project will not only be environmentally beneficial to our cities but could contribute to bringing down the cost of sewage treatment fees for our residents throughout the metro area.

Every city is - or should be - looking at the impacts of climate change now and into the future. What does a warmer planet, a warmer West Michigan, mean for us and what sorts of investments do we need to make today in preparation for that future? Grand Rapids has shown national leadership in answering these questions. Our Community Resiliency Plan, completed in partnership with West Michigan Environmental Action Council with research support from Grand Valley State University has become a model for the country. The plan anticipates the impacts unique to our region and looks at a variety of solutions we can begin implementing today. Future generations of Grand Rapidians will look back on this time with gratitude for the far-sightedness of our city.

This work earned us a voice at the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change in Warsaw, Poland, this past November. It also earned us a seat on the newly formed President's State Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Community Preparedness and Resilience. There remains before us years of work to be done in this area. We must be smart, conservative in our use of resources, and bold in advancing our state of preparedness. We look forward with confidence, however, because of the strong partnerships we have with organizations like with WMEAC and GVSU; Consumers Energy and ITC; our neighboring cities and the state of Michigan.

Another area where our region is making significant progress - progress that will pay dividends in air quality, economic vitality and quality of life - is public transportation. Our transit authority - ITP, The Rapid - was once again recognized as best in class in the country in 2013; the second time we have earned that recognition in the past nine years. Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid, was recognized for his leadership when his peers elected him Chairman of the national board of the Association of Public Transportation Authorities. Peter is with us this morning. Please join me in congratulating him. Next August ITP will begin operations on the Silver Line, the first Bus Rapid Transit system in the state of Michigan. We are already planning for the second line, the Laker Line to connect the Grand Valley State University Allendale campus with downtown. And we have organized the Streetcar Task Force to begin the important work of planning the city's first modern-era streetcar line.

Do you remember that last year I called for a mode-shift in transportation, a shift that would impact the development of downtown and strengthen our neighborhood business districts and residential areas? That shift has already begun. The Pirgim Institute recently released its data on transportation in the 100 largest municipalities in the country. Grand Rapids ranked sixth in the nation in increased transit ridership and twelfth in the nation in increased work-related bicycle trips. Again we show national leadership, this time in transportation mode shift.

We are planning our streets to accommodate non-motorized transportation with a Vital Streets plan. We have installed 41.6 miles of bicycle lanes toward our 2015 goal of 100 miles. We have improved walkability through smart growth development. And our growth in transit ridership far exceeds the national averages over the past decade.

With increased density development all over the city we must continue these efforts to improve transit, to elevate bike safety and to promote mixed use, walkable centers of commerce, residence and work all over the city.

Finally, let me update you on one of the most exciting projects we have ever undertaken in Grand Rapids: restoration of our eponymous rapids to the Grand River. This project, the brainchild of two great Grand Rapidians Chip Richards and Chris Muller, has taken on a life of its own and is moving through a planning process with - pardon the pun - rapidity! It was given a huge boost when the federal government designated it one of the 2013 Urban Waters Federal Partnership initiatives. A dozen federal agencies and several state agencies are working with our local leadership to clear barriers to the project and assure that, when the time comes, federal and state financial resources will be there to work with local resources to complete it. Chris Muller is with us this morning and I'd like to have him stand as we acknowledge him.

Because anything we do in Grand Rapids we do thoroughly and well, we are marrying this river planning initiative with a downtown and river edges planning process to ensure that we get maximum benefit out of the rapids restoration. How should the river edges be developed? How can we ensure that citizens have access to the river? What investments are necessary to maximize downtown development that will capitalize on the rapids restoration? Can we, should we, "daylight" some of the historic streams that flow into the Grand? What design criteria should be applied to any riverfront development? These and myriad other questions will be addressed as these two planning processes move forward over the next year, coordinated by a Steering Committee.

This project will fundamentally change how we view our Grand River. It has the potential even to shape how we understand ourselves as a people living in harmony with the river.


I always wake up early, before my 5:15 alarm goes off. Sometimes I lay in the dark for a few minutes, Susan sleeping peacefully beside me, and I let my mind range freely. I'm mayor of one of the most amazing cities in America. Is it a dream?

With so many northern industrial cities thrashing to keep their noses above water, my city - our city - is prospering. And not only prospering, it is standing head and shoulders above many places in the panoply of Great American Cities. How did this happen? Is it a dream?

Then I think of all the people living in the neighborhoods of our city. Coming together through their neighborhood associations to improve their conditions. They fight crime through neighborhood watch committees. They support their local businesses. They eliminate blight by insisting that housing be maintained, that streetlights stay lit. Most importantly, they engage - like in no other city - to forge community out of common interest, out of love of neighbor, out of a vision for a better life.

This is no dream. This is our Grand Rapids.

I think of the businesses, large and small, always looking for new ways to reach customers, to serve customers. Willing to take risks. Day after day putting their own creativity, sweat and - yes - sometimes tears, into making their businesses thrive.

This is no dream. This is our Grand Rapids.

I think of philanthropists. Some have made billions, some millions; others - like most of us - have very modest fortunes. No matter how many zeroes are behind the first number in their net worth all these people make our city better through their generosity. They give to the arts. They give to human service organizations. They give to their church, their synagogue, mosque or temple.

This is no dream. This is our Grand Rapids.

I think of the children. The promise of our future. The pledge of one generation to a future they can only imagine and may never see. I see their faces etched with hope. I hear their voices filled with joy. They still believe that everything is possible.

This is no dream. This is our Grand Rapids.

Our Grand Rapids is a place of promise.

Our Grand Rapids is a field of opportunity, a treasure chest of creativity.

Our Grand Rapids is alive.

Our Grand Rapids is progressive.

Our Grand Rapids is great.

And it will remain great because of your commitment to this place and to the people who live here, your neighbors.

If you believe - like I believe - that no matter how great our Grand Rapids is, it can always be better: more creative, more compassionate, more competitive; then join me in making it so.

This is our home. It's no dream. It's our Grand Rapids.

Thank you.

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